8 Great Cuts of Meat to Swap in for Turkey This Thanksgiving
If you dare.
As Thanksgiving draws near, consider asking yourself if you actually enjoy the taste of turkey, or just the idea of the traditional roasted bird. One Philadelphia butcher wants to remind you that Thanksgiving will still happen if you make another main dish ... and it could actually be way better.
About eleven months after Nick Macri launched in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, the butcher added a hand drawn sign to his stall, propped onto a pig’s foot, that read, “Sold out of turkeys since January 6, 2015.”
Meant to deter questions from holiday grocery shoppers, the date is the same he opened for business. It’s not just the taste of turkey that leaves Macri uninterested in selling it (even for the holidays), though he admits to preferring fast-food fried chicken over a premium bird that could cost as much as $8 a pound.
“I’d rather have $160 of Popeye’s and feed my entire neighborhood. And that’s more in the spirit of the holiday, anyway,” he says. Really, La Divisa focuses on red meat, and Macri sees bringing in the birds just for the season as a disingenuous cash grab.
The Canadian-born son of Italian immigrants started La Divisa after spending years working in Philly restaurants, butchering sustainably-raised, locally-sourced meat in-house. But the meat was only available to a narrow customer base. “I noticed that the only avenue for getting responsibly-raised meats was either through a restaurant setting, or frozen and vacuum-sealed at a farmers' market,” he says. “If the only way you can get a nice pork chop is as a $40 entree, it’s just not accessible to many people.”
So Macri launched La Divisa as a cut-to-order, traditional-style butcher shop selling housemade charcuterie and sustainably-raised meats from nearby farms. Its home, directly across from a cheesesteak stand in one of the oldest markets in America, is a fitting one. Macri and his team aim to make the meat-buying process a less intimidating one, educating his customers and connecting them with cuts they might not have otherwise chosen. (He may have even claimed to be out of beef as a gentle nudge to introduce someone to a cut they might not have chosen otherwise. Luckily, this tactic has worked out well so far. Just ask the woman who came for prime rib and now makes a leg of goat each Christmas dinner.) So while La Divisa may have been sold out of birds since January 2015, the shop is catering to customers’ holiday needs with less traditional cuts.
Plus, while turkey leftovers are kind of a one-trick pony (cold sandwiches, maybe a soup if you’re not beaten down from making the multi-course meal the night before), these alternative options make stellar leftovers—sliced on salads, pulled for sandwiches or tacos, whipped into a meaty ragù to pour over pasta.
Read on for Macri’s suggestions for alternatives to turkey, and kick off a brand new holiday tradition this year.
If you have a small kitchen, make …
A coppa roast. The boneless shoulder roast of pork can be cooked in a smoker, or with indirect heat on the grill, thus freeing up your oven space for side dishes. Other cuts that work well on the smoker or grill include porchetta, chuck roll, and brisket—all of which are crowd-pleasing, economical, and manageable, says Macri. “They hold up really nicely, and you don't have to baby them as much.”
If you can splurge, make …
A roast leg of lamb. Butterflied, a boneless leg of lamb is great for feeding a crowd, according to Macri. “It has thick parts and thin parts, and you have medium slices that are rosy pink, and well done pieces for your picky eaters. They’re really manageable and easy to carve, and they can also be done on a grill, or in an oven quicker that what a turkey would take.”
If you want a dramatic showstopper, make …
A full pork belly with the skin still on, slow roasted with garlic, thyme, and salt. “Pop it under your broiler, and the skin puffs up, and you get this big, impressive chicharon with meat underneath it,” says Macri. “It’s really easy to do.” Another option is a pork rib roast. “With the skin still out, so you get this nice sheet of crackling on top, and it’s crisp and delicious.” Turkey who?
If you love modern Israeli cuisine, make …
A square-cut lamb shoulder. Thanks to Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s 2015 cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, Macri says one of his most popular cuts for Thanksgiving (and the holidays in general) is a once-overlooked cut of lamb. “Before that book came out, I worked at a lamb farm in southwest Virginia, and selling a whole lamb shoulder was damn near impossible. Most went to stew meat, or ground lamb, or cut into chops, and now we can sell a full lamb shoulder easily,” Macri says. “People want to do the lamb shoulder recipe [from the cookbook] at home.”
For more stellar turkey alternatives, see our round-up of show-stopping Thanksgiving main dishes, from honey-bourbon-glazed ham to mustard-crusted rib roast of beef.